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Baraa Shiban

Yemen marks fifth anniversary of 'incomplete' revolution

The revolution is a story that once begun, can never end, writes Shiban [AFP]

Date of publication: 17 February, 2016

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Comment: Yemenis in the city of Taiz, the birthplace of Yemen's 2011 uprising, are keen to finish what they started, writes Baraa Shiban.


Taiz, Yemen, Saleh,

It is a new day in the city of Taiz, Central Yemen. This is a city that has been living under siege for more than four months, a siege imposed jointly by the Houthi and Saleh forces. A city where death has become a daily routine, with no hospitals or schools operating.

But this city carries the tales of a revolution.

Mohammed, gripping the hand of his 10-year-old niece, was walking towards to the middle of the city to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Yemeni revolution. He was telling her what had happened in this square.

It was in Taiz where the whole story started, five years ago. On that Friday, Mohammed - then still a university student - joined a group of young protesters and started to chant the revolution's famous catchphrase: "The people want the downfall of the regime."

"I didn’t have any political activism before that," Mohammed said. "But it doesn't require a senior politician to realise that the regime was corrupt and it was time for change."

Mohammed and his fellow revolutionaries marched in the city of Taiz, chanting all night, and finally he returned home to have some rest - but, as he slept, the country was anything but quiet.

Taiz quickly grabbed the attention of the whole country, and the chants of protesters echoed across Yemen. Then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and his party, the GPC, were still having talks with the political opposition, known as the JMP. Saleh managed to drag the opposition into his game of politics, promising a lot - but not giving much - negotiating without compromising. Soon, that game was to end.

The youths' persistence became the political opposition's strongest card

The opposition realised that people like Mohammed were far more determined than they had realised, and were not willing to engage in any form of negotiations. The demand was clear: Saleh and his family must leave.

The youths' persistence became the political opposition's strongest card, and gave it the upper hand for the first time in their dealings with Saleh. The spontaneous enthusiasm of the young people helped the revolution flourish, but was also their weakness.

The youth didn't engage in any talks, and the result of months of protests was given to an opposition who had failed in the past to make a single gain against Saleh.

The opposition signed an agreement proposed by the Gulf Cooperation Council by the end of 2011. The agreement gave Saleh immunity in exchange for him stepping down from power. Saleh was not prevented from remaining in the country or having a political role, which meant that the opposition would have to trust Saleh's not to spoil the transition.

Mohammed, like many other revolutionaries, didn't celebrate the signing of the agreement, and could see that Saleh was again playing the opposition. He went back to his university, more aware of the political developments around him.

Yemen managed to go through a National Dialogue process and drafted a new constitution - but Saleh and his family were still in the country. In 2014, Saleh managed to finalise an alliance with the Houthis, who fought with the Yemeni military no fewer than six times between 2004 and 2009.

When the Houthis were approaching Sanaa, Mohammed said that he realised a counter-revolution had been set in place.

"The political parties failed again," he said. "They failed to realise that Saleh would come back, they failed to prevent the state from falling, and they failed in running the transition."

By March 2015, the war was knocking on the doors of Taiz

Mohammed added: "This is the result of having half a revolution - the war that we thought we prevented from happening in 2011 happened anyway in the end, and Saleh is taking revenge against all those who participated in his fall."

The revolution underestimated what a counter-revolution meant. Saleh was willing to push the country over the edge to come back to power. Finally, Saleh took the fight to Taiz, the city that had, that one day, first called for the downfall of his regime.

By March 2015, the war was knocking on the doors of Taiz. The city that praised itself for so long for being the most educated and the central hub for intellectuals across Yemen had to pick up arms and defend itself.

The people of Taiz got engaged in heavy fighting with the Houthi and Saleh forces, and when they managed to push them out of the city in August last year, Houthi and Saleh forces imposed a complete siege on Taiz, preventing aid, medicine and even water from entering.

The result is the worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

Hospitals were forced to close down due to the lack of medicine and oxygen canisters. Infant mortality rate increased dramatically, as the remaining few hospitals didn't have incubators for newly born babies.

In November 2015, UN relief chief Stephen O'Brien stated that Houthis had blocked supply routes and continued to obstruct the delivery of humanitarian aid. MSF has also announced that it failed in attempts to bring in medicine into Taiz.

The people there rely on smuggled items to cover their basic necessities - and the prices have tripled.

The city is still living under heavy shelling by the Houthi and Saleh forces, but despite the ongoing threat, people like Mohammed believe that the fight had to happen, and if the clock were turned back, he would have participated in the revolution again and again.

Mohammed says that the fight between Saleh and Taiz was inevitable, and it was Taiz that didn't finish its job in 2011, but will complete the task in 2016. "Saleh will leave and Taiz will remain," he adds.

As he walks down the streets of Taiz to join his fellow revolutionaries, he teaches his niece the chants of the revolution. He asks her to teach them to the coming generations. This is a revolution - a story that once begun, can never end.

Baraa Shiban is a Yemeni human rights activist and Yemen's project coorindator for Reprieve. Follow him on Twitter: @BShtwtr

Opinions stated in this article remain those of the author and do not mecessarily reflect those of The New Arab, al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

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